Category Archives: Short Fiction

In The Grey

This was something to get me going yesterday evening. I needed atmosphere for another project and was struggling to describe it. Once I had a feeling of a place, some people popped up. See below!

Grey mist settles like dust. Thick, like you could put your hand in it and leave a mark, an absence. Grey like the sea, like the birds, like the buildings squat against the rocks.

Winter.

When he first came to the islands, he loved the seasons. The dark curtain of winter, the switch to the bright light of summer, no messing about with anything much in between. Now it was just a black and white movie. Old. Predictable.

He kicked at stones to keep his feet warm. New boots. He’d get new boots for next winter. Spend a bit on them, this time, make it feel like his feet were part of him and not cold like the rocks below.

Someone coming through the grey. Short, squat, like a bruise.

Hughes. Hughes the bruise. He thinks he should remember that, tell Hughes, like a joke. Hughes the bruise.

Hughes comes closer, a face forming in the grey, granite.

He looks at Hughes, sees a lifetime of scars, forgets the joke he was going to tell. Not the day for it. Never the day for it. No joking with Hughes.

He waits.

Hughes comes to him. “Alright?”

He nods.

“Caught anything?”

He looks at Hughes, surprised, then remembers. The thin shaft of the rod is so light in his hands that he had forgotten it was there. Borrowed. From Hughes? Maybe. Maybe it was time to give it back.

He looks out into the mist. There is water, a lake of sorts, a dark pool beneath the mist.

He looks at the ground. Beside his cold feet in their cold boots, a couple of boxes, plastic. Living things in one, crawling: bait. Nothing in the other.

“No,” he says.

Hughes smiles at him.

He doesn’t know what to think when Hughes smiles. It is odd, like the sun shining bright in winter or the thought of being truly warm.

“They’ll come,” Hughes says.

Hughes pulls his coat around him and carries on along the path.

He remembers. He calls out.

“Hughes!”

Hughes turns to look back at him.

He stops now, still, like the rocks or the mist or the fish that will lie dead in his plastic box as soon as he’s caught it, reeled it in, teased the hook out of its jaw and cracked its head on the ground.

Hughes is looking at him.

He is thinking about the dead fish, completely still, then about the rocks, completely still. The mist moves, like breath, he thinks. The rocks move too, slower, like the breath of something about to die.

Hughes is waiting.

He can hear the tap of Hughes’ boot on the ground. A twitch that could become a kick.

“Hughes the bruise,” he says.

Hughes stops tapping his foot. Hughes folds his arms across his chest and tilts his head – just so.

“Hughes the bruise,” Hughes says.

“Hughes the bruise,” Hughes says again.

Hughes nods and turns and walks away, disappearing into the grey.

He smiles.

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Elephants, shadows and nervous Sundays

As promised, I’m writing on Elephant Words over the next six weeks, so thought I’d use a blog to tell you a bit about it and also to link to my first contribution.

Elephant Words brings together a group of writers. Each Sunday, one of us posts a picture which is then used as a prompt by the other writers for a piece of short fiction. Rather than leave it to creative chaos, there’s a schedule, so you’re forced to write on a different day each week. If you’re Friday in Week 1, you’ll gradually move forward in the week – and so have less and less time to think about your tale each week….

shadowman

Here’s the image that was posted last Sunday. You can read my response at:

http://elephantwords.co.uk/2015/01/13/shadow/

What do you think? What would you have written? What does this image bring to you?

If you find the wee calendar on the Elephant Words website, and click different dates from last week, you’ll see the responses of other writers.

There’s a new image going up today, and I’m the Monday writer this week, so the nerves are already jangling…. Come on, muse, don’t let me down!

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A new short story, just for you…

Two blogs in 24 hours: I’m spoiling you! After lamenting my lack of short story productivity in recent weeks, I asked Twitter to suggest a one-word theme for a story. Thanks to Kerrin Shaw, I have spent all of today thinking of the word “tremulous“. (No, really, thanks, Kerrin.)

Below: the story (which doesn’t have a title, so you’ll just dive straight in).

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All the latest news and views!

What news of the novel, you cry?

After all that editing (and all those moany blogs about the process), it feels like the novel is very nearly in a finished state. Soon, it’ll be time for it to leave home, head off into the world, phone up occasionally for a bit of money to pay the rent, and – hopefully, eventually – blossom into a successful and independent young wage-earner. Or something like that.

Saying au revoir to one novel means planning the next one. There are two concepts vying for my affections at the moment. Both of them will get their chance. I’m just debating which one to date first. For either of them, the process has already begun: I’ve been thinking about them, dreaming a little, writing down little snatches of dialogue that as-yet-unnamed characters will say, mulling what each of them is really about. I like the looseness of the early stages of writing: finding pictures, pieces of music, historical reference, words, phrases, images and letting them come together in a slightly chaotic crowd. Then I’ll pick my way through them, seeing how they join together, drawing lines between one thing and another. The culmination of that is to get a piece of flip chart paper and draw lots of circles, arrows, stars, squares with words to describe key scenes, moments of character, moments of plot and a kind of sequence for the whole thing. By the time I sit down to start writing, I know broadly what will happen – though not every step along the way – and I could start to write at any point in the book (which is helpful if you start to get bogged down at the beginning of chapter 3).

Comics – analogue, digital and coming soon

Last weekend saw me at Bristol Comic Expo, always one of the highlights of the comics calendar here in the UK. I had the slightly daunting honour of interviewing Arthur Suydam, an absolute legend of comic art, a descendant of some of the finest painters produced by the United States, and an incredible painter. In an increasingly digital world, it was fascinating to talk art and craft with someone who still uses a brush, some paint and a canvas to create all of his works.

On the digital front, my most recent blog for Pipedream Comics was published a week or so ago. In it, I explored the creative opportunities presented by digital comics. What is it that digital, and only digital, enables you to do as a creator? How might you change the storytelling process when you’re creating for a digital only environment? It was fun to write and I hope you find it valuable to read.

As for future comics: well, I’m DELIGHTED to have two scripts now safely in the hands of artists and artwork under way.

The Heart Which Makes Us is a graphic novel for the Unseen Shadows universe, focusing on forensic investigator Kathryn Monroe. Artist Aaron Moran is about 1/3 of the way through and his work is stunning – dark, twisted, scratchy, disconcerting. When you look at Aaron’s work, you feel that there is something going on behind the scenes, that there are psychological forces swirling on the page, that truth sits in the shadows and the depths.

Secrets of the Islands is also a graphic novel which will hopefully come out late 2014 / early 2015 from a well known UK publisher. Artist Verity Glass is a prodigious talent, with an amazing eye for colour and a magical style when it comes to expressing character and setting. She’s been a real help in developing the story, and I can’t wait to see how the artwork develops. Secrets of the Islands focuses on a soldier aiming to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder by returning to the site of battle. More than that, I’m not going to tell you. Not yet….

Short stories

All of the above has happened at the expense of short stories. I desperately want to get back to writing them – I miss them! So I’m going to look at the schedule – and the competition calendar – and try to get some momentum on the short and flash front soon.

Thanks for reading! More news as it happens….

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Missing Elvis

It was pointed out to me today that I haven’t updated my blog in a while. The last few posts have been “novels and comics” updates, so it’s probably time to share another story with you.

This one’s called Missing Elvis. And it goes a little something like this….

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Flash, times three

Time passes, and my Elephant Words deadlines get sooner each week. I thought I’d post links to my efforts thus far, so you can have a peruse at your leisure.

The idea of Elephant Words is simple: each week, an image is posted. Writers then take it in turns to respond, with a story, a reflection, a poem, a joke. It’s a round-robin, so everyone gets to post an image and you move up through the week each time (hence, the deadlines really are getting sooner….).

Little Bird

Abandoned-House-b-1This image put me in mind of war. A burned out house set me off on an American Civil War path, until I noticed the contrails across the evening sky. That brought me into the 20th century and the war in the former Yugoslavia. From there, it was a case of wondering who had lived in the house and whether, perhaps, she still did. Click to read Little Bird.

Carter and the Blue Cow

Carter and the Blue CowNext up was this little gem. It took me longer than I thought to craft a story around this. My first instinct was to bring the cow to life as some sort of judgmental vegetarian alien: an object lesson that first instincts are not always right. I ended up with something more literal, inspired in part by the feedback loops which the connected world creates for us, as well as by a large colourful cow outside a front door. Click to read Carter and the Blue Cow.

And So We Carve

And So We CarveYou might need to zoom into this one to see her, but in amongst the pumpkin patch, there’s a little girl. This time, all the stories that popped into my brain were very literal – or related to a long-ago real-life trip to a pumpkin farm in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. (There were pumpkins. We went home. Short story.) A bit of dreaming later and reality was banished… you can read what follows by clicking And So We Carve.

Next week’s image gets posted on Sunday and I’m up on Monday…. I’ll tweet the latest tale and post a link up here too. If you’re on the Elephant Words site, have a dig around – there are some fab writers on there who’d love your eyes upon them 🙂

Happy flashing!

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A big elephant and a little bird

Thank to the lovely Nick Papaconstantinou, I am taking part in Elephant Words, an online writing challenge.

Each week, a writer posts an image on the Elephant Words site. Other writers then respond to it, through stories, recollections, poems, comics, whatever takes their fancy.

This was my first week, and I had the luxury of five days to think. Next week, it’s down to four. In a few weeks’ time, there’ll be a short breath between the image being posted and my story in response. The deadlines are heaven-sent as they’re making me put deadlines on other work that I’m doing (yes, that novel will be edited before ThoughtBubble).

This week’s image was tAbandoned-House-b-1he photograph shown here. You can see it in larger format at http://elephantwords.co.uk/category/elephant-pictures/

And here’s my response: http://elephantwords.co.uk/2013/10/10/little-bird/

I hope you like it!

*All image credits to the people who own the images, as listed on the original sites.

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Editing: dead darlings, flashers in the woods and someone stealing your shoes

So the blog has been a bit quiet for a few months, largely because (a) I was being a productive writer and (b) there was a heatwave. Probably more (b) than (a), but let me believe my own lies at least…

In the past few months, I have written a highbrow piece called Sentient Zombie Space Pigs, which has today received a very lovely review from John Freeman at Down The Tubes. I’ve also been compiling Vol 3 of Disconnected, our comic anthology of stories set in small towns – we’ll be launching that at the Comic Art Festival in Kendal later this month. And I’ve been discovering the joys of editing. Continue reading

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White Out – a story from the snow

Here’s a tale inspired by some fairly claustrophobic weather we saw on holiday last week.

White Out

You can see the others as you kick at your skis and move forward across the snow. They are there as you are pulled down the slope, pushing your weight this way, that way, this way, that way, feeling the mountain breathing beneath you. They are there as you pause for breath: they answer with muffled words from behind their scarves as you say “it’s closing in”.

Together, you watch the whiteness coming. The piste in front of you narrows; you see thirty feet ahead, now twenty, now ten. If you close your eyes, the world is black; if you open them, the world is white. You close your eyes. You open them. You are alone. Continue reading

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Salt

Here’s a little tale about salt. And love.

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